Nothing could be more simple-seeming than the hushed opening bars of Beethoven's fourth piano concerto, but when Murray Perahia (above) launched into them in early September at the Albert Hall in London, the audience got a taste of the magic which has made this courteously media-shy figure a legend. Next month it's Chicago's turn: Perahia's appearance at the Symphony Centre will include Beethoven's Sonata in C-sharp minor and two pieces by Chopin, another composer who has been central to his career. A Sephardic Jew from Salonika via the Bronx, Perahia attended the same class as Liza Minnelli at the Fame school, before switching to the piano. His career took off when he won the Leeds piano competition in 1972, after which he settled in the quiet west-London suburb where he still lives, aged 65, surrounded by his family and instruments.
His sound marries technical perfection with a singing delicacy redolent of the past masters he venerates—Casals and Horowitz were his mentors—but what's astonishing is that his award-garlanded career has been punctuated by recurrences of a mysterious and disabling medical condition in which his right thumb swells painfully and goes rigid. Battling depression when, for two years, he thought this had ended his career, he turned to chess and a deep study of Bach, and began to plan the rest of his life as a conductor (he now often conducts from the keyboard). But during respites he has swept on triumphantly, playing Chopin's towering études like the wind, and delivering Baroque music with such freshness that it might have been composed yesterday.
~ Michael Church
Murray Perahia Chicago Symphony Centre, Oct 14th
CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE
Beethovenfest (Beethovenhalle, Bonn, until Oct 7th). This annual jamboree sees the start of two riveting cycles: the sonatas, by András Schiff, and the string quartets, by the Borodin Quartet.
The Magic Flute (ENO, London, until Oct 18th). ENO's new shows are proving dodgy these days, but this 1988 production by Nicholas Hytner reflects the company at its best. Complete with live doves, it's an evening of wall-to-wall charm, and this is the last run it will have.
Der Ring des Nibelungen (Royal Opera House, London, until Oct 29th). Keith Warner's fine production, back with a top-notch cast, headed by Bryn Terfel as Wotan.
Vladimir Jurowski and the Russian National Orchestra (Festival Hall, London, Oct 4th). Playing Vaughan Williams and Prokofiev, but the main draw is a superb orchestra, the first private one in post-communist Russia.
Médée (Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris, from Oct 12th). The finest French opera of the 17th century, by Charpentier, with an outstanding cast including the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri.
Carmen (Met, New York, from Sept 28th). Richard Eyre's production is now run in, and, like his "Traviata", has the solidity of a classic. ~ MC